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This Is TransCanada's Latest Justification for Constructing the Keystone XL Pipeline

Canada and the Group of Seven leading industrial nations have pledged to cut emissions, so it's time to build the pipeline, says a company executive in a letter to the US State Department.

by Rob Verger
Jul 1 2015, 9:30pm

Photo by Larry W. Smith/EPA

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An executive of TransCanada, the company proposing to build the Keystone XL pipeline, sent a letter to US State Department officials arguing that recent climate-friendly steps announced by the Canadian government justify approval of the stalled pipeline project.

Kristine Delkus, TransCanada's executive vice-president and general counsel, points out that Canada has committed to reduce its emissions by 30 percent compared to 2005 levels by 2030. The letter also mentions the Alberta provincial government's new emissions reduction goals, as well as its doubling of a tax on carbon. The TransCanada missive also references a pledge made by the Group of Seven to end the use of fossil fuels by 2100.

The TransCanada letter concludes by saying that together those initiatives, among others, are "important and positive with respect to the ultimate national interest finding for the proposed Keystone XL project."

Watch the VICE News documentary Alberta's Boom Time here:

In a key climate change speech in 2013, President Barack Obama told students at Georgetown University that the Keystone XL project should only proceed if it doesn't "significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution" and is thus in America's "national interest."

American environmental groups found the TransCanada letter humorous.

"It's a desperate move by TransCanada and it's laughable," Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, told VICE News. Canada has a poor track record for meeting its emissions goals in the first place, and that's because of production in Alberta's tar sands, he said.

"The amount of additional carbon that will be unlocked by building Keystone XL dwarfs what the new regulations could actually address," he added.

Alberta produces around two million barrels of tar sands oil every day, Kretzmann said. Some of that oil is consumed in Canada, while most is used in the United States. A small amount is exported. Oil companies would like to get their production up to eight or nine million barrels a day, Kretzmann added, but that would be what he called a "carbon nightmare."

The Keystone XL pipeline, if built, would help the industry produce and move more oil — about 800,000 barrels per day from the tar sands in Alberta to refineries along the Gulf Coast in the United States.

Related: Alberta set to double carbon tax rate in Canada's oil heartland

Julian Boggs of Environment America echoed Kretzmann in describing as "laughable" the TransCanada letter to the State Department, which is reviewing permits for the project because it would cross the US-Canada border.

Boggs says that Canada's emissions reductions goal and Alberta's new rules are positive steps, but remained cautious.

"For a long time, Canada has been a bad actor on the global stage," when it comes to fighting climate change, he told VICE News. He is glad that Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, united with other G7 leaders in the goal to decarbonize the global economy85 years hence.

"These are commitments and goals that are laudable," he added. "Ultimately we need tangible concrete policies and real investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency."

The crude produced in the tar sands has a dirty reputation. A study showed that fuel produced with oil extracted from the Alberta tar sands results in about 20 percent more heat-trapping carbon emissions compared to "fuel from conventional domestic crude sources" in the United States.

Cathy Collentine, who focuses on the tar sands issue for the Sierra Club, said that TransCanada is disingenuously trying to make their goal of exporting more oil a part of a larger environmentally friendly narrative.

"They are pushing something that in reality would drive the exact problem that this letter says they could be a solution to," Collentine told VICE News. "And that's entirely false."

Related: Here's why Canada's oil is worse than America's

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger